Acts of gender-based violence do not arise out of thin air. The violence is a consequence of a society that accepts and normalises everyday occurrences of harm. A lot of this harm comes about because of a particular understanding of “manhood” which says that to be a “real man” means to be aggressive, hypersexual, domineering and unemotional – toxic masculinity. The Daily Vox spoke to a number of *womxn about their overlooked experiences of toxic masculinity that set the stage for acts of gender-based violence. For most men, a lot of this is probably alien – for womxn, though, this is just a typical day.
**Chanelle Philips, 24, Johannesburg
A guy grabbed me on Halloween and started violently kissing me. I confronted his friends a bit later (my first reaction was to run away), and they told me he’s a good guy, just drunk and I should be flattered. I told a few guy friends about the incident and got the same kind of sentiment, “Lol, we’ve all been there,” or “Alcohol does funny things to people!”
I cut my hair short for the summer. Kept being told I shouldn’t have, girls should have long hair and that I shouldn’t be surprised if people think I’m a) a “dyke” or b) on the rebound from a relationship (apparently cutting one’s hair has this connotation?). It’s been mostly white guys. And it’s never “personal”. They’d claim to be advising me out of concern: “I personally know you’re not a dyke, but just fair warning that that’s how guys will see you now”.
Priyanka Naidoo, 21, UCT student
Welcome to our lives.
It’s in those spaces that I feel the most uncomfortable because it’s as if I’m the only one who’s seeing what’s actually happening. It’s very threatening and often I don’t speak up about it because of that – but calling out a stranger publicly is also a whole other thing. But I also just think that this speaks to the normalisation of hyper-masculinity and the toxic culture that we have bred in our society. My final comment is that men are trash… and you’re more than welcome to quote me on that.
**Maxine Reed, 23, postgraduate student, Cape Town
My dad is a narcissist who abused me and my younger brother for years with his violent masculinity, the worst part is my brother is still so caught up in it, and that it actually hurts the male who internalises it as well.
My dad always used to mock me for being so emotional after he purposefully elicited emotion; he saw it as training me to be tough. He saw anything masculine as good for me, not crying, doing karate and soccer, learning how to be hardcore in debates. One sad part is that how I’ve been trained in a sort of masculine way actually enables me to navigate the world more easily – so his intention to make things easier for me by training me to be less of myself actually worked, but obviously the trauma from training doesn’t go away.
Nomalanga Mputhi, Master’s student, 23, Cape Town
I cannot walk out my house without at least one person catcalling. It gets worse when sometimes you’ll just walk past and they won’t do anything, but there are also times where you can see that they feel very entitled to you. So for example I’ll be walking past and they’ll be like “Ey sisi” and making those weird kissy sounds, and then you just continue walking by minding your own business and they’ll be like “Hello! Hello!” as if they expected you to give them all the attention. I’ve never understood what the outcome they were hoping to receive was? It can get quite scary when they keep persisting and you ignore them. I just feel like there’s a large sense of entitlement attached to what’s expected of women.
When I work in groups I think a lot of men assume that they are going to be the one in charge and I think a lot of people, from my own experience. If you’re discussing a project and the cis-het man says something which I may disagree with in terms of the project, a lot of the time they take it very personally and you can see that they don’t want to be argued with. As if any disagreement is seen as a personal attack. It’s kind of like because they’re the man, they assume their idea is going to be taken very seriously and everyone is just going to agree with them.
**Samantha Johnson, 34, Cape Town
Go to any soccer match where there’s kids, and just watch the men and how they treat their children, it’s horrendous.
Five-year-olds! And it’s all races. My ex-husband regularly tells my daughter that he’s going to “smash her little face in” because she’s dating someone four years older than her. He’s trying to be dominating and assert control over the situation.
*The term “womxn” is used intentionally to be inclusive of all femme identifying bodies, not just cisgendered women.
**Names have been changed
Editor’s note: the definition of “womxn” has been corrected.